From genetic testing to attempts to grow viable eggs from stems cells, researchers are trying to improve the success rate of fertility treatments and cut their cost.
Why it matters: About 9% of men and 11% of women of reproductive age in the U.S. experience fertility problems, resulting in a multibillion dollar industry. The next-generation of fertility treatments has the potential to change who can have children and when but they are still in the early stages of development and have high hurdles to clear.
1. Genetic testing: People are looking to genetics for insights into how likely a fertility treatment is to succeed. Artificial intelligence has been lauded as a possible future tool to augment physicians' decision-making about courses of treatment for people who have repeatedly failed IVF cycles.
2. IVG: Scientists are attempting to take adult human cells and turn them into artificial eggs or sperm in a process called in vitro gametogenesis (IVG).
- In 2016, Japanese scientists created artificial eggs from skin cells taken from a mouse's tail, fertilized and implanted them in mice, which then gave birth to pups. Now they're studying whether human gametes can be developed similarly. But there are major obstacles in developing a human system.
3. Instead of starting with stem cells, Evelyn Telfer from the University of Edinburgh recently reported isolating immature eggs from the primordial follicles in women's ovaries and activating them to grow into mature eggs in a dish. Theoretically, these would be ready to be fertilized.
- Eventually these approaches may be merged to take a stem cell all the way through to a fully mature egg in a dish.
- The bottom line: "There is a big gap between basic research and clinical applications. It will narrow as [we learn more] but basically we are in the dark," Telfer says.
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